Feels like flying

Ski jumper Karin Friberg soars into her comfort zone

Karin Friberg started skiing down hills when she was 3 years old. As she grew older, however, that speed wasn’t enough. During a family trip to northern Minnesota when Friberg was 10, she was skiing in a terrain park and decided to make her way over to a small jumping hill. It wasn’t big, but it was enough. “It all started from there,” Friberg recalled. “I couldn’t really stop.”

As a member of the Visa Women’s Ski Jumping-USA Team, Friberg, now 21, is flying over hills rather than skiing down them. She lives in Roseville, but trains during the summer with her team in Park City, Utah. Her immediate goal is to qualify for the World Championships, which will be held in Val di Fiemme, Italy, in 2013. But it’s hard not to daydream about the following year, when women’s ski jumping will make its Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia.

After years of struggling to get women’s ski jumping added to the Olympics, Friberg and her teammates gathered around a phone in April to listen in on a conference call with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Their struggle paid off. “It was exciting,” said Friberg as she recalled the news that women’s ski jumping was a go. “But it was also just kind of a relief, mostly because we had been working at getting it into the Olympics for so long. It was finally like, ‘It’s about time.’ “

A craving for flight
Ski jumping is a family affair for the Fribergs. Her grandfather, uncle, brother and three cousins have competed. For a long time, Friberg simply wasn’t drawn to the sport. “I wasn’t scared, I just wasn’t interested,” she explained. She had never been into sports that much.

All that changed when she discovered jumping. “I found my niche,” Friberg declared. “[Ski jumping] is one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve probably ever had. …. It’s like flying. … [In] what other sport do you really get to fly over 100 meters in the air?”

Stepping out of her comfort zone and sailing off a jump did take some getting used to, Friberg admitted. The only time she recalled being scared, however, was the first time she flew off the 20-meter jump. “After that, it’s kind of addicting,” Friberg described. “It becomes your comfort zone, you almost crave to be doing it,” she said. “You want to go up to the bigger hills because you want to fly longer and go farther.”

Ski jumping’s adrenaline rush is not the only reward. Friberg has been to Europe for competitions nearly every year since she was 16, and called her traveling adventures one of the highlights of her ski-jumping experience. “For all those days of school missed and for all the dances I missed it was totally worth it for the things I’ve gotten to see and do.”

What it takes to jump
The sport requires physical skills like strength, endurance and balance, but it’s the mental demands of jumping that are the most challenging, Friberg said. “You’re throwing yourself off of a jump and doing something that your body is telling you that you probably shouldn’t be doing,” she said, and need to block out everything around you-weather conditions, emotions, senses-and focus only on the jump. A strong sense of discipline is also required, Friberg added, as is the ability to accept constructive criticism.

“If you want things to get better, you have to be willing to change something.”

For Friberg, these aspects of jumping translate to the world beyond the ski hill. “I’m probably more of an introverted person, so for me to do something like this, it really puts you outside of your box. … Never in a million years did I think I would be sitting here right now being a part of something so awesome.”

Friberg has been juggling school and skiing for several years and will graduate from the University of Minnesota next spring with a degree in nutrition. She would eventually like to pursue a career working with athletes, but first plans to permanently relocate to Utah so she can focus on training.

Friberg’s ability to block out distractions, honed from years of standing at the top of a jump waiting for just the right moment to launch, will come in handy as she waits for Olympic history to be made. She isn’t thinking too much about Russia. Yet. “I’m just going to train hard, be focused on my jumping, and the results will come.”

Now it’s our turn
Ski jumping was featured in the first winter Olympic games in 1924- ski jumping for men, that is. Women’s ski jumping will debut in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, an accomplishment years in the making.

In a sport that is more akin to flying than jumping, competitors soar through the air as aerodynamically as possible before landing. The Olympics feature jumps of two sizes, K-90 and K-120, referring to the section where the landing hill starts to flatten out. The women will only do the K-90 jump.

For more information about women’s ski jumping, its athletes or the games in Russia, visit www.wsjusa.com